Be Smart, Keep Foods Apart - Don't Cross Contaminate

September is National Food Safety Education Month (NFSEM), an annual observance to focus attention on the importance of safe food handling and preparation in both home and commercial kitchens. Created by the foodservice industry in 1995, NFSEM is widely supported by federal, state and local government agencies, the food industry and consumer organizations. Be Smart, Keep Foods Apart - Don't Cross-Contaminate is this year's theme for NFSEM. Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they are not handled properly. An example of cross-contamination is cutting raw meat, poultry or fish on a cutting board and then slicing salad vegetables on the same cutting board without washing the cutting board between uses.

Most consumers have developed a good foundation of food safety knowledge. Yet there is still consumer confusion about cross-contamination. This confusion results in increasing the risk of foodborne illness. According to a 1998 FDA/USDA consumer food survey:

  • Twenty-one percent of main meal cooks do not wash their cutting boards after cutting raw meat;
  • One quarter of main meal cooks do not wash their hands after handling raw meat and fish; two-thirds do not wash their hands after handling raw eggs; and
  • Sixty-one percent of people who use a cloth or sponge to wipe kitchen counters change them less than seven times per week. Food safety experts advise using paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces. If cloths or sponges are used, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Here are some helpful tips for preventing cross-contamination:

  • Always wash hands with hot, soapy water after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, as well as eggs - and the juices from raw foods - away from other foods in your shopping cart, on kitchen counters and in your refrigerator;
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different one for raw meat, poultry and seafood;
  • Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food without washing the plate or cutting board between uses;
  • Don't use sauce that was used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood on cooked food unless you boil the sauce first.

Brought to you by the
Environmental Health Services of the Flathead City-County Health Department
(for more information call 751-8130)